Friday, May 10, 2013

Center of My Joy (a Freedom Friday post)

I love music…lots of genres of music! While I mostly listen to Christian music, I’ve been known to belt out a country hit, a classic rock tune, and even hum along to some sanguine jazzy mixes. But, nothing (to borrow the phrase from my friend, Carol) cranks my tractor more than making a joyful noise along with some of my favorite praise and worship melodies. My iPod is full of them, and they are my go-to songs of choice most days (but…I will say TobyMac is my artist of choice when I’m in the gym…gotta have a little beat).

Last night, on my way home from the gym actually, I was in the car by myself (a perfect opportunity to practice my American Idol audition…okay, just kidding). Anyway, I plugged up my iPod to my car adapter and started listening to my playlist of praise and worship tunes. I just let them play at random. One of the songs I have in my list is an older one sung by Ruben Studdard (Season 2 American Idol winner). The first time I heard this song, it stopped me in my tracks. The lyrics are so simple, but matched with the melody, it literally brought tears to my eyes.

Jesus You’re the center of my joy
All that’s good and perfect
Comes from You
You’re the heart of my contentment
Hope for all I do
Jesus You’re the center of my joy

When I’ve lost my direction
You’re the compass for my way
You’re the fire and light when
Nights are long and cold
In sadness You are the laughter
That shadows all my fears
When I’m all alone
Your hand is there to hold
Oh, oh

Before I know it, there I am again…pulled over on the side of the road…listening to the lyrics with tears forming in my eyes and a smile forming on my face. That’s it friends! Joy-filled tears (not tears of sadness)! The freedom I have in Christ leads to unexplainable, indistinguishable JOY! Now, as I’ve blogged about several times before, don’t confuse happiness with joy. Happiness is based on circumstances…joy is much deeper than that. Joy in Christ can come even in the midst of…

cancer – death – bankruptcy – divorce – emotional pain – sudden disability – job loss – teenager issues – abuse

and a host of other issues. It’s true friends. I can tell you first-hand (as I’ve experienced several of the list above) – You. Can. Have. Joy. Even. Amongst. Pain and loss. But, it only comes through Christ.

For years, I called myself a Christian. I was a marginal one, at best. My walk…well, my walk was on a lonely path. One I tried to travel alone. I was self-sufficient (or so I thought). I didn’t need anyone or anything. I had it all figured out…and then…the loss and the pain arrived. I had no joy. I also wasn’t surrendered to Christ. I was a “fan” of Christ (as Kyle Idleman calls it in Not a Fan), but I was not a follower. I knew about Christ. I didn’t personally know Christ. BIG difference.

When I decided that I couldn’t do it alone anymore, that I was miserable in this journey called life – I gave Him ALL of me. That’ s not to say life has been perfect ever since – not even close. But, I’ve been able to discover joy – literally recognize it in myself over and over again, in spite of…well, in spite of me actually.

Last night when Ruben belted the words out to Center of My Joy, I couldn’t help but join him. I know that kind of joy…especially in the midst of my most painful circumstances.


Friday, May 3, 2013

I Can’t Forget

Grave flowersMay 3 will never again be just another day. 2011 changed that for me forever. It was on this day, two years ago, my husband “disappeared”; or at least that’s what we initially thought. Chris was so predictable that when the minutes and hours kept ticking by from the time he would normally be home from work, I knew something was wrong. The rest of the evening’s activities included calls to the local hospitals to make sure a “John Doe” hadn’t been brought in following a wreck or something, prayer requests being sent out in droves, a visit to the local police station to file a missing person’s report, driving around town looking for my husband and/or his bright red truck. Sadly, May 3 ushered in May 4…still with no sign of Chris.

Many hours later, I got the call…some friends from church had FINALLY located his truck…the hunt was now on for Chris. Little did they know at the time, he was lying only about 100 feet away from them. Within the next 30 minutes, however, Chris’ lifeless body was discovered the evening of May 4, the result of him completing a suicide.

I filled this blog with posts during that grief process (you can actually click HERE for the very first post following his death). I thought I’d never get over the shock of becoming a widow at such a young age. I remember that particular May 3 and 4 vividly. I may not remember the details of the events that followed in the next few days and weeks, but I’ll never forget those two days. The pictures…the details…everything is just as clear today as it was then.

In those early days, I vowed to do something. No matter how badly I preferred to curl up in a ball and ignore everything around me, I vowed to read something from my Bible each day. I also promised to talk to God daily. As I share my story, I’m quick to note, however, that those early prayers might have been only two to three words. Eventually, I graduated to extended time with the Lord. I also maybe only read a verse or two each day, as I adjusted to my “new normal”, but soon that turned into true study of His Word again. Even in the shock…even in depths of grief…I could not forget my God. He would be the only one that could turn ugly into beautiful again.

Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. ~Proverbs 4:5 ESV

If you told me then, I wouldn’t have believed it. God allowed me to find true love again. He promised me time and time again during my Grief Journey…

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten. ~Joel 2:25 ESV

Little did I realize that those very words from the book of Joel would be made manifest in a man named Joel…the man that is now my husband. Going on nine months of marriage this month, I can see the fingerprints of a restoring God all over my life and in my marriage. However, even though healed and restored, I still can’t forget the May 3 and 4 that changed my life forever. In the same way, I can’t forget the God who

  • lifted me out of the pit of despair
  • held me up when I was too heartbroken to stand
  • delivered me from the grip of grief
  • protected me while widowed
  • guided me as a single parent
  • caught each tear I shed
  • heard each prayer I prayed
  • rescued me from deep waters
  • HEALED me

In the same way that my mind remembers those painful days, I also remember the loving God that cherishes me. I can’t forget Him.

Mr. and Mrs. Joel Stirewalt

Mr. and Mrs. Joel Stirewalt

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Crazy Collection (a Whimsical Wednesday post)

Newspaper 1Since I was a little girl, I’ve collected things. Postcards, key chains, tea sets, dolls, bells, elephants, Africa stuff, Carolina Panthers paraphernalia, porcelain roses, Christmas cards, and I know there are others I’m missing…but, you get the idea. While I don’t collect most of things anymore, there is something another collection I have and will continue to add to until I reach the end. No – not the end of my life on earth (unless that comes first) – the end of the collection. Yes – this one does have an end. Whew! The collection? Newspapers from state capitals.

I mentioned a few weeks ago in another Whimsical Wednesday post that one of my 2013 bucket list items was to add at least one more newspaper to my collection this year. Now, the catch with this particular collection is that I have to actually travel to the capital of each state to pick up my paper. It’s not enough to simply call the newspaper office and buy one to have shipped to me over the phone. What fun is that? For a travel nut like me, the joy in this is actually creating a fun memory and getting to see more of this beautiful country.

I’ve actually traveled to more of the capitals than I have newspapers for, but I didn’t start this little collection until my daughter was around 3-years-old. That’s been 13 years ago now. A little over a decade ago, my mother and I went on a New England adventure together. The entire purpose of the trip was for me to gather newspapers from all of the capitals in that area (and there are a lot of states packed into that tiny little part of the country)! We packed a lot into a week…including a side trip to Niagra Falls and a Baltimore Orioles ballgame. The best part of the week was the fun memories we made…

  • sampling maple syrup on a maple farm in Vermont
  • me winning a can of Bush’ baked beans by answering a trivia question correctly on a tram in Portland, Maine
  • driving in NYC for the first time and driving completely out of the way to simply avoid heavy traffic only to discover Boston was far worse to drive in
  • being in Boston when the Tall Ships come in
  • laughing hysterically through the tunnels in West Virginia for no apparent reason.

And the list goes on. So, while many may laugh at my crazy collection…it’s a memory maker for me…time to get more (and create more memories)!

I’d love to hear about your crazy collections (and those not-so-crazy ones too). Feel free to leave a comment or contact me through my Contact page. Meet you again here on Friday!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Best Laid Plans (a Freedom Friday post)

Well, my intentions were good…until…

You know how it goes. Please tell me I’m not the only one. You strive to be more organized, you make all your plans, you have it all figured out only to see everything you’ve planned unravel all over again.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 ESV

Don’t I know it!

I had made plans for more structured blogging with the new weekly Makeover Monday, Whimsical Wednesday, and Freedom Friday posts. I did great…for two weeks…and then life was interrupted by the unexpected.

My husband was suddenly hospitalized after we returned home from a fun weekend out of town last weekend. We went to the ER late Sunday night, and thinking we would return home a few hours late, I was shocked when they admitted him to the hospital early Monday morning. The good news…it was just a virus. But, a nasty one at that! It attacked his body, and he needed some additional medical help to go over this nasty thing. The bad news…it derailed my week. In doing so, it pointed out some weaknesses in my “plan making” (#1 being procrastination). After I beat myself up about it for a little while..I had an epiphany, of sorts.

My life has been one big (or little) interruption after another. Seriously. Just when I think I’m pulling myself up by my bootstraps, some little spark ignites into a fire all over again. So, why do I do this? Why am I tempted to throw in the towel, assuming I’ll never get it together enough to be successful at anything?

I am a target of the enemy, and he knows where the bullseye is with me…my low self-esteem. He knows that if he can get me there…he can get me anywhere. But, what he doesn’t seem to realize is that God knows this about me too, and He promises that His power is perfected in my weakness (2 Corinthian 12:9). I don’t know about you, but for me…that’s some shoutin’ material!

Thank you Lord that when I fail and turn to you, You are glorified!

Thank you Lord that when I come to you with my weaknesses, Your strength is illuminated in me!

Thank you Lord that Your plans for me are the ones that will succeed!

And so…I’m standing back up, dusting myself back off, and getting back in the saddle again (so to speak), and I’m not wasting one more second in my self-imposed pity party.

I HAVE had two successful weight loss weeks for my Makeover Monday followers. I’ll fill you in on Monday. Stay tuned…

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rejoice – Pray – Give Thanks (a Freedom Friday post)

I hope you had the opportunity to join me last week for my first ever Freedom Friday post. If not, you can click here and check it out! For the rest of you, welcome back!

Having gone through a life long roller coaster ride…having experienced extreme highs and what appeared (at times) to be bottomless lows…I can say with all honesty there are 3 verses in scripture that I’ve struggled consistently to obey.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV) 

Rejoice always (v. 16), pray without ceasing (v. 17), give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (v. 18).

Rejoice. Always?

How do I rejoice over the suicidal death of my husband?

How do I rejoice when my dear friend contracts breast cancer?

How do I rejoice upon learning that I tore the meniscus in my knee while simply playing Wii with my daughter and would require surgery?

Pray without ceasing.

How do I continually pray as I struggle to balance the checkbook for the first time after becoming a single mom?

How do I pray without ceasing when I’m so exhausted from the 16 hour work day I just completed and now have an 8-year-old asleep on my office floor that needs to be carried home and put to bed?

How do I offer up continuous prayers when God seems so far away or non-existent at times?

Give thanks in all circumstances.

How do I give thanks while burying my husband on Mother’s Day?

How do I give thanks that my parents divorced and I’m now being whisked away, as a teenager, from the only support “place” I’ve ever known?

How do I give thanks while tears pour down my face following another heartbreaking conversation with someone I dearly love?

Seriously? Is God really asking me to do these things? Rejoice – pray – give thanks?

In short, yes. But, before you exit this post, because you just can’t listen to one more person telling you that God expects you to live up to something so seemingly impossible…please hear me out. Believe me, I know what you might be thinking…I’ve thought it too. I understand how often you’ve tried to be the person that does all three of these things so beautifully and failed time and time again. Yep – me too! But, will you walk with me for just a couple more minutes as I briefly unpack this? Because, maybe…maybe just maybe…God wants to impart a new nugget to you from some old verses that you’ve read time and time again.

REJOICE – always. Too often, we confuse joy with happiness. I know I’ve been guilty of this time and again, however joy for the Christian is something that is not dependent on our circumstances (which change all the time) but IS dependent on the unchanging character of God. I have learned, first-hand, that it is possible to be joyful even while experiencing hardship and sorrow. How can I do that? By focusing on those promises of God that are unchanging and knowing that I can find all-sufficiency in Christ Jesus alone. I rejoice in the future promises of God – eternal life with Him. The life we live on this earth is so brief compared to eternity. That’s so hard to comprehend, but when I pause to actually try and do that…I am able to rejoice that my eternity is secure. The hardships, the trials, the sorrow I may experience during my time on earth are only temporary…my security in my salvation and eternal home is permanent. I can REJOICE over that! The always part of this verse appears to mean the continual practice of a joyful attitude and spirit. What steals that joy from us? Focusing on our circumstances rather than the God over our circumstances.

PRAY – without ceasing. I love how one commentator puts it, “In the Christian life the act of prayer is intermittent but the spirit of prayer should be incessant. It is not in the moving of the lips, but in the elevation of the heart to God…” I love that. It’s not the very act…God doesn’t expect us to walk around uttering prayers all day long. That would be impossible. How would we pray as we sleep? Rather, God wants our spirit to be constantly devoted to a heart of prayer…a desire to walk in sweet communion with Him. Prayer is a way to develop and maintain an intimate relationship with God.

GIVE THANKS – in all circumstances. Oh boy…this is the one that seems to trip people up the most. Give thanks IN all circumstances. It’s that two-letter word – IN – that we tend to gloss over. God is not asking us to give thanks FOR all circumstances. He is simply instructing us to practice a heart of gratitude towards Him for His continual grace, mercy, and loving-kindness. No matter what we are experiencing at the moment…God is still gracious, merciful, and loving. No matter how deep our pain…God never changes. No matter how often we turn our back on Him…He never leaves us. How can we not offer thanks for all that He’s done for us even in the midst of life’s hardships? Much like I shared last in last week’s Freedom Friday post…Paul & Silas were in prison and yet offered up praise & thanksgiving to God, which ultimately resulted in their freedom. Hmmm…could that be key to the “freedom” we might be looking for as well?

I’m certainly no theologian, and I’ve only begun to understand the full meaning of these short verses, but God is not asking us to do something that we’re incapable of doing, or He would have never asked us to begin with. He sees my heart…He knows if I’m truly joyful and if I’m trying to maintain that intimate relationship with Him via prayer. And…He certainly knows if I have a heart of gratitude.

Whew! I don’t know about you, but when I examined these verses a little further, I recognized an ability (only through Christ) to be able to actually put these things into practice. Will it take away my pain? Probably not. Will it diminish it? Perhaps. Will it draw me closer to Him? Most definitely!

Heavenly Father, Please help me to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all circumstances. Help me to be focused on You, the One I know but can’t physically see rather than on those things that I can see and yet do not understand. In Jesus’ precious name I ask and pray, Amen!